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Operation: Paella (Part 1)

So Much To Do

Each day we’ve tried to check one major item off our list: figure out the metro/bus system, get Jojo enrolled in school, buy bicycles, see music, go to the beach, get a coworking place for Lyon, find a yoga class for Alice. We don’t have as much time here as we did in Costa Rica, and we know that in August things will close (not the beach, obviously, but lots of other places).

Yesterday we thought we would check paella off our list. I texted Marc to see if he had any recommendations for where to go. Then, knowing the answer, I asked whether 12:30pm was too early in the day to eat paella.

He answers, “Hasta las 13:30 no se puede comer. En ningún sitio. Aún es almuerzo.” Later, I find that he’s right; you can’t get a real paella before 1:30pm. It’s not that the restaurants don’t serve them, it’s that the restaurants where you can get paella aren’t even open until then. The place that we settle on is called El Gran Azul, and their hours of operation are 1:30 to 4pm, and then they close. They open again from 8:30pm to 11:30pm. You’ve heard about the Spanish eating their largest meal in the afternoon, and you’ve heard about how late they have dinner. Here’s a restaurant that doesn’t mess around with globalization. They are sticking to the traditional schedule, and they don’t care.

Aún Es Almuerzo

But for now, Marc’s message, “Aún es almuerzo (it’s still almuerzo),” elicits a whole series of messages about the Spanish meal schedule:

“¿El almuerzo es antes de la comida?” I message, confused about almuerzo being a meal that happens before 1:30pm. I thought it just meant “lunch,” that it could be used interchangeably with la hora de la comida

I quickly learn that it can mean many things, and it all depends on where you live. Marc sends me the meal schedule for Valencia:

Desayuno cuando te levantas (breakfast when you get up)

Almuerzo de 9 a 12h

Comida de 13:30 a 16h

Merienda de 17 a 18h

Cena de 10:30 a 23:30

I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain over the years. But I’ve never had this written down for me. It all makes sense now. And then Marc, because he can’t help himself and because he loves the idiosyncrasies of different cultures and regions, especially the ones from his own Comunidad Valenciana, sends me a series of videos and articles about the famed Valencian almuerzo:

The first article is from El Comidista, a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek food column in Spain’s El Pais newspaper.

In the article, the reporter goes on assignment to la Communidad Valenciana in search of a better understanding of what, exactly, the Valencian almuerzo is (or, “esmorzaret” as it’s called in Valenciano. Valenciano, the language, will get its own blog post, don’t worry).

From the article: “Igual que al diablo, se le conoce por muchos nombres: esmorzar, armorzar, esmorzaret, almuerzo…El almuerzo es una ceremonia sacra en territorio valenciano, y pobre del que la cuestione (Like the devil, it is known by many names: esmorzar, armorzar, esmorzaret, almuerzo…The almuerzo is a sacred ceremony from Valencia, and I feel sorry for anyone who questions it).”

The article goes on to describe the contents of the almuerzo, which rotates around the bocadillo (Spanish baguetted sandwich)The bocadillos are stuffed with anything from tortilla española (eggs), to gizzard, liver, horse meat, veal…”cuanto más te acerque al cardiólogo, mejor (…the closer it gets you to the cardiologist, the better).” And then there’s the picaeta, which is more my style: peanuts, olives, pickled peppers, and of course, a caña (small glass) of cerveza.

The next time my phone dings there is a video from Marc describing the almuerzo Valenciano, which starts off, “If between 9:30am and 11am you enter a restaurant and there’s no one in there, fear for your healthsomething strange is going on there.” The implication is that the place should be full of people almorzando giant bocadillos, picking at olives, downing glasses of Turia, and, most likely, exhaling cigarette smoke into the atmosphere.

By 1pm we realize we are not ready for Paella. Jojo goes back to school at 3pm and we won’t have time. Our paella planning has been hijacked by trying to understand the Esmorzaret, an entirely different meal, and we are in over our heads for the day.

But the groundwork is laid. Tomorrow: Paella.

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